The next report card is for the 24th film in the James Bond film franchise, entitled Spectre.
Spectre—directed by Sam Mendes; written by John Logan (screenplay and story), Neal Purvis (screenplay and story), Robert Wade (screenplay and story), Jez Butterworth (screenplay), Ian Fleming (characters); starring Daniel Craig (James Bond), Christoph Waltz (Oberhauser), Léa Seydoux (Madeleine Swann), Ralph Fiennes (M / Gareth Mallory), Monica Bellucci (Lucia), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Dave Bautista (Hinx), Andrew Scott (C), Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner) and Jesper Christensen (Mr. White).
One of the things that I enjoyed immensely about this movie was how much of a callback it was to previous films in the franchise. After Skyfall, it seemed like we were getting back to the core cast, as we now have M, Q, Moneypenny, and Tanner to round out the MI6 team. However, this film took that to the next level, giving us the classic powerhouse henchman Hinx, who evokes memories of Jaws, Oddjob, and others that came before him. We have Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. organization, which was sorely missing. Lucia's role is one we've seen many times before, as the woman who despises her criminal husband and leaks information to Bond in exchange for one night of fiery passion. Madeleine Swann handles herself well but doesn't upstage Bond in any way, which is a great mix of wanting to get away from the frankly sexist portrayals of women in the past while also not forgetting that 007 is our hero, not the Bond girls. Max Denbigh is a true sniveling twit that you see working alongside the villains all the time. This movie nails the tropes of Bond characters one after another.
Bond films are never the absolute strongest when it comes to acting, as there isn't much of a range to play around with. You're never going to get Oscar-worthy performances out of anything that happens in any of these films, no matter how iconic a certain character might be. Basically, it has to boil down to whether you believe these actors were cast correctly for the characters they were putting up on the screen within the 007 universe.
In my opinion, yes, they were. When he was originally cast as James Bond, I thought I would hate Daniel Craig, but I've warmed up to him. Still, I've never felt that he was fully the character until this film. Christoph Waltz is such a perfect choice for Blofeld that I'm even willing to admit I was wrong when I said in the past that this was Kevin Spacey's part to play. Monica Bellucci is super sexy and Léa Seydoux has a different sort of charm about her that I found intriguing. Our supporting cast all have their fun moments as well. I'm warming up to Ben Whishaw's nerdy pushover Q and Naomie Harris's resourceful Moneypenny very much, as well as the take Ralph Fiennes has on M as a more hands-on boss.
VISUALS (FX, MAKEUP, COSTUMES, SETS): B+
Sets were beautiful, visual effects didn't stand out to me as odd in any way, the costumes were distinct for each location (particularly the opening sequence) and I'm digging Blofeld's scar. Well done.
MUSIC & SOUND: B+
"Writing's on the Wall" is not as good as "Skyfall" in my mind, but it's a damn good entry in the pantheon of Bond themes. One of my complaints about Skyfall's soundtrack was that Thomas Newman—a composer who has done many scores I absolutely love—didn't match up to David Arnold's from the past. I still maintain that Arnold is better, but I wasn't taken aback as much this time around by what Newman had to offer. Perhaps he's grown more comfortable or just made some different decisions. Until I've re-listened to the score isolated and on its own, I should reserve some judgment, but as far as first impressions go, I have no complaints.
TONE (ACTION, ROMANCE, COMEDY): A+
ACTION: The action this time around felt more about the intensity than it did the stunt work, but that's not a complaint. The car chase was a lot of fun in particular, and I loved the fight inside the train, which may not measure up to the one in From Russia With Love for the people who can't let go of the nostalgia, but I feel it was on par.
COMEDY: I can't think of a single time that I was supposed to laugh in this film but didn't. Granted, nothing was an uproarious belly-laugh, nor did I have tears in my eyes from chuckling so hard, but the Bond films aren't comedies to begin with. This was a nice balance.
ROMANCE: Admittedly, Bond's seduction of Lucia felt a bit rushed, but I found his relationship with Madeleine to be pretty interesting. The idea of Bond shacking up with someone from a psychiatric background brings a new dimension to a Bond girl relationship that we haven't seen before. Oddly enough, though, my favorite part of the romance in this film was the connectivity regarding Vesper Lynd and even M (although that's a mother/son relationship rather than a romantic one). The flirtatiousness between Bond and Moneypenny was something that I had fun with, too, as that's a staple of the franchise.
FINAL GRADE: A
While I certainly expect no major attention from the Academy Awards, I do think Spectre is in my top favorite films of the year. As a huge Bond fan, this movie was just served up on a platter for me to have fun with. All of the references to previous aspects of the franchise made me grin from ear to ear, and the opening gun barrel alone got me to literally jump out of my seat a bit with excitement. There's no way I couldn't love this film, so I recommend it wholeheartedly for serious 007 fans. That being said, the friends I saw this with aren't nearly as into the series as I am, and they still enjoyed it, so don't feel as though you have to have seen the previous 23 films and read all the books to like it. We started off this year with a great spy movie in Kingsman and we're ending it with another in Spectre. Sam Mendes, you better do another one of these!